Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Centering

How does one become an effective thermostat instead of a thermometer?

I've been pondering this as I have tried to measure my reactions after coming back from a five day vacation to work. The first day - a half day - was fine. I was able to maintain my center and control how others made me feel. By the end of the second day I was seemingly right back where I started from before I left, feeling overwhelmed and angry.

What happened? How did I move from being a thermostat (controlling my emotions) to a thermometer (allowing outside influences to affect my emotions)?

Physical impact? Sure. My sleep pattern was almost immediately disrupted during my vacation as soon as my brain figured out work was coming up. I've stated it before and will again, physical exhaustion is one of my worst enemies.

Overwhelmed? Again, this is probably a factor. Moving from meeting to meeting, making a presentation, getting given 10 new items on the my list with short deadlines, all conspire to tear down any attempt at control.

But the biggest factor, it seems to me, was the inability to center.

From the time I walk in the door to almost the time I leave, I am constantly busy, either doing my own tasks or working on the tasks of others. On occasion I have lines of people outside of my office, waiting one at a time to bring me their problem for resolution - and right after, another crisis which needs resolution immediately.

What this leads to is being rocked back and forth from crisis to emergency to mundane tasks - all without the buffer of taking a moment to stop and think.

One of the two operative words in "Self Control" is "control" - but to have control, you need to be able to pay attention. One does not drive a car while writing a blog post with any degree of success.

So this is my task, or at least one of them: to start, before each new thing, by taking a breath and minute to find and readjust myself to the task at hand.

I cannot change the situation directly. I can change myself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Excursis: Reaching Out

Facebook performed one of their periodic reboots on me sometime between last week and this. When I went to my business page I found that my postings are no longer "viewed" by people, they have "reached" people.

"Reaching out" is one of those terms that has become vogue in the last five years. Consultants, sales people, and recruiters no longer call or contact you, they "reach out" to you. I don't know why the term bothers me, but it really does.

Reach, for those who were wondering, can be used as a transitive or intransitive verb. As a transitive verb, it means to stretch out, touch with a part of the body, to pick up , to hand over, to make an impression on, to communicate. As an intransitive verb it means to stretch or strain after someone, to project, to arrive.

I suppose the impression is supposed to be that reaching out is equivalent of communicating, that somehow reaching out gives a more personal cast to a communication, that I am am not just "communicating" with you but rather am putting forth my proverbial hand in the hope that you, too, will reach back to me.

Maybe it's the implication of a relationship. Reaching at any of the definitions above implies some level of contact between the two individuals, be it two lovers or a politician with their constituents. Either way, in my world such a contact has not occurred: you're calling me, you're writing me. That's not a personal contact. You're presuming a relationship that doesn't exist.

The other thing I think I find bothersome is the the implication of reaching out. Either 1) You're a superior reaching down; or 2) You're someone needy who's reaching up. In either case, that's not really what I want or need in a contact. I need honesty and equality: you've something that I might need, or I've something you need. In the context we're discussing, this is a business relationship, nothing more. Treat it as one.

I'm sure I'm a single rock in the incoming tide of language use, and I will be one the one to go under the tide of new language usage. But usage or no, I will not surrender the basic premise that relationships are built, not presumed, and that "reaching" or "reaching out" involves a level of personal contact far beyond the use it is being pressed to.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Back To Reality

My parents have just left.

Conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand, I am sorry to see them go, as I am sorry to leave when we are visiting them. Visits twice a year when one is used to twice monthly visits is a hard thing.

Sad as well because their departure seems to herald the return of the ordinary. The humdrum. The "Life as we know it 50 weeks a year".

Even as I sit and write this, the workload I have not done and the presentation I have to do tomorrow are creeping into my consciousness. A raft of exercises- petty at best, irrelevant at worst - are waiting for me on the other side of noon, clamoring for energy and attention.

The thing I don't want - the thing I fear - is that I will slide back into my "Life as we know it" stance, that the thoughts and ideas that may have percolated over the last week will be washed out to see like a sandcastle.

If I want to see more significance, I need to find the way to the significant act - such as the people in my life - and leave the insignificant - such as a report on metrics that no-one truly cares about and everyone forgets - behind.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Paralysis

I feel paralyzed.

Paralyzed by what, I'm not sure. It's not quite indecision, nor is it completely from the choices I perceive I have. But it is definitely a paralysis of life.

I find it hard to engage in any activity, even one's that I usually enjoy. There seems to be a certain pointlessness to any activity, a pointless made more poignant by the fact that large portions of my life - work, for example, simply is at it without recourse.

How do I shake this paralysis of action?

It stems, I trow, from a lack of direction - any lack of direction - in my own life. That has to be the first thing - related, I suppose, to my thoughts here about goals of some kind, any kind. And a sense, I suppose, that in a great many ways I have reached the end of the line with where I am - that the road I am on only leads to a cliff over a canyon I cannot bridge.

It is time for that (for me) most ugly of tasks: making a decision and sticking with it.

The writing is clearly there. Anywhere else that I am going to go requires me to pick a path - a different path, in most cases - and follow it through.

Two of my weakest skills. Lovely.

But this is not sustainable either. This vague sense of being able to do nothing, of having neither the incentive nor the desire to take any action, is more bothersome and disheartening than most people can imagine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Fridays of The Soul

Ah, Black Friday: that shopping day of the year where stores hope to move product and shoppers (including The Ravishing Mrs. TB) hope to find bargains.

Do we ever have Black Fridays of the soul?

Do we ever open our souls to others - indeed, even to ourselves - for true review and reflection? Or do we ever go out and actively seek to know others and ourselves with the same dogged determination we will pursue a bargain?

It's odd that we have a day dedicated to the pursuit of material items, yet we (or at least most of us, myself included) never pursue the knowledge of self and others with the same intensity. At best we may do it once in a while or at the beginning of a relationship; at worst, we do it never.

My challenge to myself: take a day (I've already got one in mind: August 2nd, Failure Day) and plan to be absent from all your normal activities. Do it alone, do it with someone else - but just take one day to pursue a deeper knowledge of yourself or someone else.

I am willing to guarantee the results will be far more rewarding than the item you bought at Black Friday that now lies forgotten.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

And so it comes: Thanksgiving 2011. I have, as in years past, a good list to be thankful for:

- The Ravishing Mrs. TB
- Na Clann
- The menagerie that inhabits our home: Syrah the Mighty, the rabbits Snowball Midnight and Bella, Tink the Hamster, and Kiki the Parakeet.
- The fact that I have a job, even if it's not my heart's desire.
- The house we live in, the cars we drive, and all that God has graciously provided for us.
- That my own parents can come and spend Thanksgiving with us.
- Our larger family scattered throughout the US.
- For the new things I've done this year: cheese making, running a 5K, the Highland Games.
- Our church.
- Na Clann's school.
- Our health (too often ignored until it's gone).
- Iaido.
- All of the fine things we've discovered here in New Home.
- Our friends, here and scattered throughout the country.
- Salvation and the gift of Christ.
- The creation in which we live.
- And, as always, the opportunity to write.

It is good that at least once a year we take the opportunity to look and consider how much good we really do have to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's the Most Goal-Wonderful Time of the Year

The Thanksgiving Holiday usually signifies the official start of the holiday season. For me, it also traditionally signifies the countdown for next year's goals.

6 weeks for goal planning? I'm slow about how I choose them - working them, reworking them, trying to find a third way with them.

So slow, in fact, that I never got my 2011 goals on paper.

This is something that has not happened in 5 years or more. Why? Not because I couldn't come up with any goals, but rather I have lost heart in writing them. In other words, I did not create goals because I did not believe that I could reach them.

Perhaps this is the core of my despondency today - my lack of hope stemming from my lack of belief that I can achieve anything other than just getting by.

But is that legitimate? Is it legitimate to say that I will not aspire to anything because there is simply no way for me to achieve it? If that is my logic, then I have hobbled myself out of the gate before the race has begun. Just because goals and aspirations are not where my life is right now does not mean they are impossible, it just means I'll have to work all the harder to achieve them.

Part of that, I think, is simply due to being co-opted by the system in which I work, where there is little direct relationship between the amount of effort put in and any rewards that come out. All the effort in the world can be sunk in; the result is only more work and little notice, the dull hope of a small increase in pay and bonus.

But again, that is the fault of where I work, not what I do. I have worked plenty of other locations where those rules did apply, and the effort was noticed and rewarded.

But if I believe it's possible (not that it's a universal law, but it is highly predictable), that still means one has to have actual goals to shoot for - not ideas, not thoughts, not concepts, but actual goals. And they need to be goals that are actually larger than I think is possible, as I found in an excellent T.S. Eliot quote this morning: "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

"Make no small plans" said Daniel Burnham, "for they have no magic to stir men's blood...Make big plans, aim high in hope, and work." Here's to an early 2012 that will give direction and purpose.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bleak

Feeling at the end of the proverbial rut this morning.

Every - and I mean every - path seems to lead precisely nowhere. I am in angst of going to work today (it really was that bad of a day on Friday), yet in angst of the fear of something terrible happening at work - or not happening at all. Every activity of mine lies at my feet, it's path run to the point of a seeming blockade. All paths lead to walls, and the swirl of activities has become nothing more than a empty sound, a plain devoid of all.

I cannot see a future from here. This is the most bothersome for me. I feel bereft of anything remotely resembling hope - just a long bland tunnel of doing, rather than being.

In watching Avatar The Last Airbender with the kids last night, there is a point where one of the Master's tells a protagonist that thanks to her commitment, discipline and hard work, she has become a success. I look at my own life and feel even more lost, because I cannot see a place in the last years where any of the those factors has made any of a difference. Commitment, discipline, and hard work only seem to keep me in some kind of holding pattern, without any sense of going anywhere.

Where do I find hope? How do I locate some sense of direction, some shining light on a hill that seems more than just another star, long out of reach?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friendship is Where You Find It

The bulk of my friends in the years since I graduated from high school have been friends I found at work.

This is a stunning thought to me - stunning because the line of work I am in is not something that I would have ever really chosen, let alone thought about going into in school. I would have thought I would have ended up in something like I studied, dealing with people who dealt in thought and concepts and interests as I did.

Instead, I have found my friends to be in this industry I did not anticipate and so often feel out to sea in. Perhaps it is the fact that one spends so much time with one's coworkers that some relationship is predetemined. Perhaps it is because of the fact that in my industry I deal with intelligent, quirky individuals which appeal to me. Perhaps it is simply that this is where dregs of humanity congregate (of which I am one). But never the less, this is where I have found them.

One wonders if perhaps (in one of those pre-ordained acts God seems to spring on us) the whole reason God allowed me to be here in this industry, wandering from place to place (and indeed from Old Home to New Home)was the fact that He knew that this is where I'd find the people I needed to find to make it through my life. Another reminder, I suppose, of how much God knows about what He is doing - and how little we do, and how often I get these two concepts reversed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cold Front

Early morning run:
I wish the wind would drive me
as overhead clouds.

Success

Sometimes letting go of our successes can be as difficult and freeing as letting go of our failures.

Successes can be tricky things. On the one hand, we want to succeed. Success feed our self confidence. Successes give us the sense of accomplishing things. Success is a measurable metric of our achievement.

But successes can also bind us.

Success in one area breeds more success in the same area, which can draw us down one path, excluding others. And even if we go down another path for other success, the second success can mislead us: in one circumstance, we close a million dollar deal; in the other, the cheese I made is edible. On the surface, one is wildly great and other is okay (or at least edible).

But what if the million dollar deal locks you into something that 10 years from now you'll hate? And what if the lopsided cheese you made today, if followed, could lead to a career in gourmet cheeses?

Success is not - and cannot be - the only indicator about what the purpose and direction of our life should be. Without intending to, it can in the end blind us to other options and possibilities and directions about where our true successes might be found.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quality and Lures

I understand now the lure of producing things other than for yourself, the drive of making a little more money.

It starts innocently enough: you start making something for yourself, and you find you're successful at it. The next thing you know, you are starting to make it (or other things just like it) for others.

Life is good. Money is rolling in, things are growing, life is splendid.

But then something happens. A problem emerges. If something is done, it will interrupt the cash flow, be embarrassing. The pressure - if not from you, then from those around you - is to figure out a way to justify things. After all, it's not a serious problem, or it doesn't rise to the level of a real problem, or it you can find ways to verify the problem doesn't impact anything. And besides, the people you're making it for will never really know.

Before you are aware, you've gone farther down this road than you intended. Another problem comes up, and then another. Always though the pressure is to make things work, to figure out a way around or through. After all, it will create issues for income.

To some extent one could say (with some justification) that this mentality is just another fallout of the industrial age. In the pre-industrial age one often made things for one's friends and neighbors, and if the product wasn't good, they'd surely be around to tell you about it. But now there are multiple layers between manufacturer and the customer. Any issues will more than likely never be brought to light -and if they do, your customers do they same to you (undoubtedly), so it's really just status quo.

But in an age that argues for quality, that has individuals and societies that are organized around quality, that suffers from a lack of quality, isn't it a bit remarkable that we are now attempting to enforce something that used to be internalized but is now imposed from outside?

Not everyone is a victim of this, of course: there are corporations that practice high quality and individuals that don't practice it at all.

But the lure of money is a powerful one, whether imposed on ourselves or from individuals outside of us. It is often left to us to navigate the rapids with what we have, hoping against hope that the river will slow down and we can get ourselves to the shore.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thugs

I hate thugs.

I struggled through this concept yesterday, as I sat in a meeting where the self-appointed guardians of projects started pushing their own opinions and time lines down the throats of others - not for any reason or law, but simply because they believe that it should be so.

As I sat there afterwards, stewing in my resentment and anger, I realized: I hate thugs.

We typically think of thugs as low brow, heavy-handed types with no necks who use force to get what they want or enforce their own wills. But this is something we tend to associate with "undesirable elements" rather than with our own lives. This is a mistake, one that allows such people to get away with their will.

Growing up, I was the victim of thuggery twice: both times, as I recall, in fourth or fifth grade. In one instance it was a group of kids in my neighborhood; in another, it was at school. What I remember from both (other than the discovery that I could not defend myself) is the feeling of powerlessness I had in the situation, even more than fear. I was not the biggest child growing up, nor was I the most athletic, so my choices were turn and flee (or in my case, fling your skateboard, turn and flee) or get rolled (as in picked up and planted into the raised bed of dirt). In both cases, it took an authority figure to deal with the situation.

Looking back in retrospect, I wonder if this was the best thing. While it resolved the problem, what it did is instill in me a belief that I was powerless in such situations and could do nothing myself; I needed someone else to rescue me. I'm not one for fighting per se, but I wonder if defending myself would have taught a different lesson.

Because that lesson, once learned, is hard to escape from.

The reality is that such thugs dwell in all aspects of our lives. They may not use their fists and superior weight, but they do use their power, their intellect, their words and even (still) their physical presence to enforce their wills. And they are no longer simply bigger than we are: they come in all shapes and sizes, using all sorts of intimidation to enforce the dictates of their own wills.

What it leaves us with is a sense of powerlessness, a sense that I can't change anything, that I must accept the dictates of the thug because they will overwhelm me - maybe not physically anymore, but intellectually and spiritually. We become victims of our own fears, driven to hide in the recesses of our terror of being made to feel powerless again, hoping that some other authority will come and rescue us from the thug. We become dependent on others for the defense of ourselves and the initiation of our lives.

How do you fight a thug?

By standing up to them.

It's the only way. The second reality of thugs is they are often so used to getting their way, that they don't always know what to do when someone pushes back (an interesting sideshow, if you ever observe one, is to see a thug getting pressured by a more powerful thug). They often stop and give you the look as if they are in shock that anyone would counteract their decreed will. They sputter. They get red. They get embarrassed. They may lash out at others. They are not used to having their wills confounded.

Don't know how to stand up to them? Know their means of attack. Physical thugs, of course, are simply a matter of learning to defend ourselves. Other thugs are no different. Their methods of attack are standard and can be learned. Do they quote Scripture? Learn more. Do they quote regulations? Learn them better. Do they quote ideologies? Learn the ideologies, and learn the counterarguments.

Is it hard? Sure - who has time to read the Code of Federal Regulations or review Plato's theory of government in their busy lives. But the reality is this: there is something on the other side of our fear of thugs, something that if that fear is removed will be released. I suspect it's different for individuals, and I cannot even fully tell you myself what is on the other side of my own fear. But I can sense it there, needing only to have fear moved aside to be released.

It occurs to me that the day we stand up to the thug is our life we will find that we have far more power than we thought. And if we do it often enough, we will find we are capable of far more than we ever envisioned.

Let that day be today - and every day - in our lives.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gray

What happens when the visions and dreams we hold get subsumed under an avalanche of reality?

There comes a time - seemingly often in my own life - where all that I wanted to do or intended to do or dreamed of doing gets crushed in the onslaught of the real world. I try and hold on pieces of it, or convince myself that it is only periodic and there a better time coming. But what happens when those, too, get blown away?

I bring to mind those books I have read where individuals pushed through to their dreams through a haze of disappointments and discouragements. I look at them, and then I look at myself, and I wonder "What if"?

But then I am brought down to earth by the life that I actually have, the responsibilities to which I am bound and the commitments which I have made. Suddenly achieving one's dreams seems far away when that achievement is won at any price.

The reality - although I hate to admit it - is that I am not a free agent in my own existence. I cannot do anything that I want to at any time. Instead, what I do is a careful balance of negotiation among the competing interests and responsibilities and individuals in my life.

Sound less motivational, doesn't it? Not "I am the Master of My Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul" but "I am the Negotiator of the Possible, I am the Keeper of Responsibilities". Hardly the thing to sell as a self-motivational title.

Which is back to the crux of my problem. How, in the midst of things as they are, do I find the spark to keep on having something to work towards? How do I find the motivation to believe that something I actually want is possible, rather than accept the seeming fact that all that is possible is responsibilities and commitments?

How do I not lose what is left of my inner core in the reality of a life which seemingly consists only of "musts" and "have-to's"?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reservoirs of Strength

"A thing is going to happen that has not happened since the Elder Days: The Ents are going to wake up, and find that they are strong." - Gandalf the White, The Two Towers

How do we tap our reservoirs of secret strength?

We all have secret strength, those places in our soul that rise to the challenge of our lives. Too often they are buried under layers of everyday living, squelched like a spring under a mound of rock and soil. But, like any spring, it only takes clearing away the debris above it to have the water flow out.

But how do we do it? It's easy to conceptually discuss dirt and water (even kids get that), but how do we discuss it in terms of our lives, where the task of every day overrun even our best attempts to change the smallest thing in our lives?

I've three suggestions:

1) Believe - Without believing that we can - even if we don't know how - we will never make the attempt to try.

2) Commit - We need to commit - fully - to whatever it is we are trying to do. If running, I need to make the commitment that I will run on my days, regardless of how I feel. If writing, I need to make the commitment to write the 1700 words a day.

3) Push - Too often I find that I cannot because I will not. Unless I push myself to the edge of what I think I can do, I don't find out that there is more beyond that. I often think the edge is a cliff, when what really seems to be is a step up or down into a whole new plain.

Without believing, I will never commit - because I cannot commit to a vague idea or something I really don't think I can do. Without committing, I will never have the drive to push myself. And if I don't push myself, I'll never find out what I can really do.

Be an Ent. Wake up, and find that you are strong.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Practicing Prayer Cuts

I am not the best person at prayer.

I don't suppose I've ever really been that good at it - regular, I suppose, but never good. I don't know - I'm just never one of those people for who prayer seems to flow, or whom seems to be able to hold conversations with God. If it's not written down, I forget it; if I don't have a model, I seem to drift into the same five or ten items ever time.

But this morning, in the midst of my Iaido, I had an epiphany.

I was practicing chudon waza from seiza. Kneeling, one faces forward (mae), right (migi), left (hidari) and rearwards (ushiro), and either step out or turns and step as you draw into a suhei giri (straight cut; kneeling puts the cut at kubi (neck). I was practicing downstairs, so I was not able to rise for the rest of the kata lest I take out the glass lamp bulb in the fan. Instead, I practiced rising to my knees, turning and drawing (nukitsuke), then sheathing (noto) and doing it again.

As I continued to repeat the pattern - rise, turn, draw, sheathe - I realized that I was really practicing something no different than how I should practice prayer.

The great secret of Iaido - or of any martial art, I suppose - is not that there are always secret techniques (there's always more that you can learn) but the fact that any person can master them, if only they will practice. That's the secret: repetition. The difference between the master and the student is thousands of hours of practicing the techniques over and over (Malcolm Gladwell in his fabulous book Outliers: The Story of Success puts a number on it: 10,000) , slowly become better, making what must often seem like minuscule adjustments, until at last the techniques become as natural as breathing, the weapon an extension of one's body.

Prayer is no different than this. We think prayer is some great thing that we must instantly become great at to be effective. In fact, prayer is just the same: something the Christian is to practice over and over daily. We may perceive the improvement in our prayers, but one day we will find that praying has become as natural as any other conversation we have.

We are at a disadvantage: we read the great prayers of Moses or David or Nehemiah or Daniel and rate ourselves against them. What we do not realize is that these were not prayers pulled out of nowhere; these were the prayers of men who had spent a great deal of time praying, who had practiced prayer until they could pray with great effectiveness and power.

So when I pray today or tonight or tomorrow I have a new perspective: it's not just that I'm praying and talking to God (which is, of course, of supreme importance), it's that I'm training myself in prayer the way a warrior trains in Iaido: regularly, patiently, incrementally.

Early Autumn Moon

The bright Autumn moon:
does it's light make morning cold
or is it the wind?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Running In Grooves

I pushed myself this morning.

I'm trying to alternate my exercise program between aerobic (running) and weight lifting. Running is always something of a challenge for me - not to do it so much as to get myself to do it. Truth is, I'm lazy and would often rather spend my time thinking about running than actually doing the running.

But out the door I got this morning and headed down the road.

At about the half mile point, the thought floated into my head "We should do three miles today". I was feeling good. My legs didn't hurt and I wasn't too overly warm. Besides, that would be a 5k and that's what I was really working towards.

So off I continued to run. At about the 1.5 mile point, the thought comes back. And immediately gets shot down by the right side of my brain.

"Oh dear Lord, are you serious? Really? We're going to have run two miles anyway. I'm tired. It's probably later than you think, and you still have lots of things to do this morning. Let's just head back - yummy coffee is waiting." Back and forth the conversation went as I rounded the last curve and started up the hill towards the house.

And passed the turnoff by as I went on.

This probably sounds much more dramatic than it actually is. The point - at least the point to myself - is that I pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.

More often than not, I'm less than energetic (that's a pretty way to say lazy). I do the minimum. I'd like to say there are reasons - like lack of acknowledgement, lack of reward - but in point of fact, I just don't like to make myself uncomfortable. I find that groove in my life and want to stick there.

But life is not found in the grooves. Grooves become ruts, muddy trails that stick us in the mire. It's only on the solid ground, the ground between the grooves, that we can make real progress.
However, in order to get out of the groove, it's necessary that we put in some effort, to push ourselves out of the groove. In the end, no one - friends, spouse, parents, children, even coffee (which otherwise can do so much) - can pull us out. We have to do it ourselves.

I made 3.25 miles this morning, beyond a 5K. I felt good when I ended - not great, but certainly better than I expected. Everything - including this post - got done this morning in the allotted time. The coffee was still hot. Life is good - because I pushed myself out of the groove.

And then, the Left Brain muttered, if we could only do 5 miles...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Task List

I have had a total of 1680 tasks to do at work since 25 April 2011.

Originally the Task List started out as an exercise in self preservation for all of us, a tool to demonstrate what we were actually doing and the work load we bore. As things came up, the intent was to grade them as to priority and type, then add them to the list. The hope, as I recall, was to give a tool to others to explain precisely what it was we did and how understaffed we were.

The original purpose of the tool has been cast aside (we got too busy) but I have patiently continued to maintain my own list as a testament to what I am doing and (hopefully) use it to justify my existence at the end of the year.

As I go through the list, what I find is that so many of the tasks on it were listed as "critical" or "Hot-Hot-Hot!" at the time they were initiated. Timelines which were critically dependent on one thing; turnaround times that "made the difference" to the client; things which simply "must be done": all now are little "complete" line items on the list.

The reality? Most of these made little or no difference, and the effort and time put in were swiftly forgotten once the task was completed. People "move on" with staggering rapidity, leaving efforts and time cast aside. In the end, we are as often judged by what people remember about us as much as it is what we have done for them.

Part of my heart cries out as I review the list every week that this is a sad commentary on my life: tasks marked "complete" on a list that, in five years, will probably not matter.

That old disconnect again: the reality of life versus the need to make an impact and difference through my work. How do I reconcile these?

Friday, November 04, 2011

End of the Week

Fighting the end of the week petering out again.

I seem to get here more often than not: that sense of Friday not as "It's the weekend", but a sense of staggering to the finish line once again. There's not sense of victory involved, only a sense of "it's done".

It is times like this that make me feel the burden of am I really moving forward in my life? Day feels like yesterday, month like last month. Things this year do not appear to be much different or changed or improved from things last year, and the future seemingly holds no different options.

I wonder if part of this is simply the reality of life. Before I had the ability to move around in careers more frequently, or even change them more than once; now, the focus of my career is not so much the ability to meet my own perceived needs as much as it is to have stability for those who depend on me.

Stability is good, but it brings with it its own set of issues: a sense of being trapped for one, a sense of becoming more dependent on circumstances beyond one's control, a sense of being locked in place.

This time of year is my usual "I need to get an education in something else" consideration period, that time of year just before annual reviews (and hopefully raises) that I become despondent about my ability to progress in my current career or start something different and think "If only I had a degree in X, I would be more marketable". Maybe - ask all the people with huge student loans and careers that pay less than mine. Maybe it's just catering to the fact that I really like to learn and am good at school. Maybe it's a recognition that the higher up you move, the more rarefied the atmosphere, and in my current choice I will always have a couple of marks against me from the start.

But all of this blends into a harmonious whole, a sort of low grade fever of despondency, which in turn tinges even the best news - a weekend - with a sense of "Yay?".

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Accomplishment

There's a new storm in the ocean of my employ: Medb of Connacht.

She is fascinating to me. She has the sort of management style that one would wish ( I think, anyway) from one's own boss: forward, honest, open. She takes action as well, instead of merely talking about things or taking the input of others and then doing nothing.

I think the thing that is most interesting to me is the difference in management styles: simply put, how does one end up with one's style?

I am not by nature a driven man. In some cases this works well - for example, the ability to determine what is critical and what is not, and to have perspective on the daily "rushes" that one often faces - but in other ways it does not. The chief example I can think of for this is the sense of not really accomplishing anything or having the inability to follow something through to the end.

Why is this? Why do I have this sense that I have difficulty in completing anything? Two reasons occur to me: one is that I seldom have a clear vision of what it is I want to accomplish; the second is that I little sense of what I will achieve when I accomplish it.

Clear vision? I often suffer for it. I have many good initial ideas, but seeing them in their final form is often fuzzy for me. I want to write: do I have a vision of what that book should look like, or how I will get there? Too often I do not.

The second issue - more damning, I think - is that I seldom have a sense of what the accomplishment will bring. I'd like to blame it on a long career in which much has been demanded and little reward returned, but that is not strictly fair. It's probably as often that I am not clear on what the reward really is. For some things - like Highland Games, for example - merely participating and not being sore at the end is the reward. For others - and let's be frank here - the financial reward is either not clear or not forthcoming at all, which tends to dampen enthusiasm; after all, how many "emergencies" can you deal and succeed at and still get virtually nothing?

I'd not trade my own style - it's me, and has served me well in many aspects, but accomplishment has not always been one of them. Perhaps it's time to learn a bit from a polar opposite.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is something that is expected by almost everyone.
We believe in tomorrow as we believe in today,
thinking that as today went perfectly well or even ordinarily,
tomorrow will be the same.
Tomorrow, predictably, will come as today did:
slowly, gently, regularly.

But tomorrow is not predictable; tomorrow is wild and fickle,
because we do not know tomorrow.
Tomorrow may or may not come, and we will never know that
until we reach the edge of today:
for some, the tomorrow will roll in as the tide,
for others, today is the last tomorrow they will ever spend.

So how do we invest today:
preparing to live by the inertia of tomorrow,
or living now as if tomorrow was not a given thing?


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring

To celebrate Nanowrimo (because, of course, you're supposed to read a lot of books to help you write) I'm re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring.

I'm one of that approximately 25 year generation that did not have the visualization of Tolkien's world through Rankin-Bass' The Hobbit and Return of the King or Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings or Peter Jackson's mighty trilogy in the first decade of 2000. All of Tolkien's world lived in my head, so I got to come to the whole thing fresh.

In re-reading the book, what I'm captivated by is how good of a writer Tolkien really is. Even with the fine adaptation of Jackson's (which generally held the closest to the book), Tolkien's vision as expressed through his writing far excels anything that the movie visually shows.

But the strength of Tolkien's writing, as I journey with him again, is how much of his writing is dialogue, the interaction between characters, or the descriptive quality of the Fellowship's travel across Middle Earth. Tolkien paints what he knows, especially in the Shire: much like C.S. Lewis, his descriptions recall an English countryside which even in his time was rapidly disappearing. You can see the woods and hear the streams as you read along with them. Watching Frodo develop from a Shire-bound hobbit to one who will self sacrifice, or the growth of the courage of Sam and Pippin- these are things which are not overt, but subtly happen over the course of the book - the hallmark of a master writer.

In reading again, I feel sorrow - sorrow for those who thing The Lord of The Rings is only a movie series, or even an online game. In thinking that this is all there is - battles, Orcs, magic, with some travel thrown in - they miss the greater whole, a work by a man who studied the English language all his life and uses it masterfully.